Peter Kichline Influenced Easton History

Mill owner, politician, Revolutionary War veteran, state constitutional conventioneer among his roles.

By S. M. Parkhill
Special to the Morning Call

The Germans, though not the first to come to the Forks of the Delaware, were a significant factor in Easton history. May leader came from their ranks.

One was Peter Kichline, a man of vigor and commanding bearing. No matter how his name was spelled---Keechline, Kachline, Kichline---he made his mark on local heritage.

Peter Kichline was born in Heidelberg on Oct. 8,1722, the son of John Peter Kichline, on Sept. 21, 1742, Peter and his father arrived in Pennsylvania.

Some historians say he was living in Easton in the early 1750s, but he is not on the list of Easton's first 11 families. His name first appears in public records on July 31, 1755. Peter Kichline, John Lefevre, William Parsons, John Martin, Lewis Gordon and Peter Trexler were appointed trustees to take charge of educational funds collected in England for poor Germans in Pennsylvania. The first school was built in 1755 with the help of these funds and was the first free school in Pennsylvania.

Peter Kichline was a miller, one of the first two in Easton, the other being David Wagner. Kichline's flour mill was at the foot of Mount Jefferson, on the left bank of Bushkill Creek. It was probably the first mill within Easton proper, built in 1762.

When Peter Kichline died, the business went to his son Andrew Kichline. Christian Butz, who lived in a log house on the opposite side of the creek, bought the mill from Andrew Kichline. For years it was known as the Butz Mill.

Peter Kichline's involvement in politics came early. Revolution seemed inevitable, and the people of Easton were ready. On Dec. 21, 1774, they elected a Committee of Safety.

This committee exercised total judicial, legislative and executive powers. It received it's authority from the people. When liberty was secured by the thirteen colonies, the members of the committee readily gave up their powers

Kichline was elected a member of this powerful Committee, as well as a smaller Standing Committee---six men who could act quickly and get work done on short notice.

One of the earlier tasks before the Committee of safety was to elect representatives to the Provincial Convention in Philadelphia. Peter Kichline was among the five members elected on Jan. 2, 1775.

In May 1775, Northampton County's able-bodied men were enrolled into 26 fighting companies, one for each of the county's townships. The size of the companies varied according to the number of men. Easton ranked 15th, having 87 men. Kichline was elected its Captain and Abraham Labar, its Lieutenant.

On Oct.3, 1775, by order from the Committee of Safety, the county was divided into four districts, each providing its own battalion. The first district included Easton, Forks, Lower Saucon, Williamstown, Bethlehem, Plainfield and Mount Bethel. The roster shows 700 men. Again Kichline was the commanding officer, with the rank of colonel.

With New York being threatened in the east, Pennsylvania stepped up its military efforts. A Flying Camp---a sort of rapid response team was organized. As it was preparing for action, the Committee of Safety met and on July 17, 1776, decided that Capt. John Arndt's company, which was being raised, would make up the Flying Camp. It would be a rifle company with men drawn from Northampton and Bucks Counties.

The original Flying Camp was totally reorganized, which did not sit well with the soldiers. To ease the situation, the well regarded Peter Kichline was elected its lieutenant-colonel.

One of Peter Kichline's sons also named Peter, was in Arndt's company. He was a second lieutenant. Father and son were in the line together at the Battle of Brooklyn in Aug. 1776. Col. Kichline was wounded and taken prisoner.

In Feb. 1777, col. Kichline was paroled and returned to Easton as a hero. He was appointed colonel of the county's militia and helped put down American Indian uprisings. Because he was on parole, he no longer participated in the Continental Army. In April 1780, he resigned from the military and returned to private life. He was 58.

But his days of public service were not at an end. In 1787, he was appointed judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Northampton County. In 1789, he served in Pennsylvania's constitutional convention.

When Easton was incorporated as a borough in Sept. 23, 1789, the Act of Incorporation named the officers of the borough government as Peter Kichline, Henry Barnet, Jacob Weygandt, William Raup and John Brotzman, burgesses; Frederick Barthold, high constable; and Samuel Sitgreaves, town clerk. Peter Kichline was designated chief burgess

As Easton's first chief burgess, he served from Sept. 23, 1789 until he died on Nov 27, 1789. He died at the home of his son Peter.

Kichline's second wife had died seven years earlier, so he had elected to live with Peter, who owned a farm about two miles west of Easton, in the area of today's 25th and Northampton streets.

The house in which the colonel died was torn down and in 1794 Lt. Kichline built a substantial 2 1/2 story stone house that was used as a tavern. for many years it was known as the Fountain House because a spring bubbled up under the western end of the building. From it , a well stocked trout stream ran to the Bushkill.

The stone house was covered with clapboard in the 1860s. However , a stone in the west gable was left uncovered. It was carved with the initials "PK." and the year "1794."

Kichline's Tavern as it was sometimes called, was popular with travelers leaving Easton. The pub is remembered as the popular Spingbrook Tavern.

Despite its historical significance, the tavern was demolished in 1978. A Silo store was built just west of the tavern site and operated for several years. Its now a Dollar Express store.

The Northampton County Museum / special to the Morning Call
A view of Peter Kichline's gristmill, at the foot of Mount Jefferson on the left bank of Bushkill Creek. Kichline's mill, built in 1762, was probably the first within Easton. The Butz family bought it from Kichline's son, and it was long known as Butz Mill.

S.M. Parkhill is president of the Northampton County Museum.